The transit – Translation
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Welcome to Radio Ambulante, from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Today’s episode is special.
This week we told the story of Luana, a girl who ever since she could talk expressed herself very clearly: she told her mom repeatedly that she did not identify with the sex she had been born. In the episode, we described how her case started a national conversation in Argentina.
So, to complement that episode we wanted to talk with three Radio Ambulante listeners who have shared experiences similar to Luana’s. Listeners who don’t identify with the traditional gender categories.
They are the ones who can best describewhat it’s like to be a trans person in Latin America.
So, let’s start with Victoria Rovira. She’s from Costa Rica and was born with male sex, but, as in Luana’s case…
[Victoria Rovira]: I looked at myself in the mirror and felt as a woman. I saw myself as a woman, in that case a girl, and felt free as a girl. I felt happy as a girl. But I didn’t know the term for what I felt, to put it in some words.
[Daniel]: There was a void for the words to describe that dissatisfaction that she felt with her body. And she remembers that when she discovered what it meant to be transgender, the image she received was very negative.
[Victoria]: The only reference I had access to while I was a child was what was on TV, and that was very stigmatizing, right? So, it was questions to sex workers, but with a morbid interest. So, it wasn’t about being trans or not, but rather a question of men dressing up as women to sleep with politicians.
[Daniel]: Ever since she was a child, Victoria has always had a habit.
[Victoria]: I have the quirk of walking around with one hand up and every time I talk, I have one hand up. So, it’s a very feminine way of walking, with the arm.
[Daniel]: And with her wrist relaxed…
[Victoria]: And the would always say: “Put your hand down. Put your hand down.”
[Daniel]: And she would walk in a straight line, always. Swaying her hips. And people would tell her….
[Victoria]: “Don’t walk like that. Only women walk like that.”
[Daniel]: They would tell her that at home, in school. All thought her teenage years…
[Victoria]: I suffered physical aggressions from my classmates, because of the way I expressed myself. But, there was a moment where, in the process of growing up, where they insist that I’m male, and they start to change the perspective I have towards myself. So, it’s a constant struggle between how I want to express myself and how I should express myself.
[Daniel]: And she couldn’t go to the grown-ups around her either. On the contrary, they told her the violence she received…
[Victoria]: Was my fault for being the way I was, for being a person who expressed themselves in a very feminine manner. Because I never fit into the macho stereotype.
[Daniel]: When she was 19, she started to wonder what it would feel like to look like a woman. At that point, she was working in a financial institution and for Halloween she wanted to dress up as a secretary. A costume that for her at that point in her life was very important…
[Victoria]: Because it was the way to know how I would feel like expressing how I felt on the inside, but during the day. Seeing how people would perceive me.
[Daniel]: She told a few of her coworkers what she was planning and when human resources found out….
[Victoria]: They called me. They treated me horribly. Awful, awful. Well, the human resource lady, who still worked there, said that she liked clowns, but that didn’t mean that she would come dressed as a clown to work. She told me that my right to dress as a woman, in those words, was like the right to smoke. So, it ended where the rights of other people began. Meaning that if other people were uncomfortable because of their religion, I didn’t have the right to do it.
[Daniel]: She quit on the spot. And on her last days there, she started coming in to working dressing exactly as she wanted. They couldn’t do anything to her anyway.
[Victoria]: And it was like, “Bitch, in your face.” And I changed my image, my hair color, I cut it, I change my clothes I looked completely different, but I looked happy. Scared, but, more than anything, happy. Excited. Very, very excited.
[Daniel]: But, not all trans people know clearly that they are trans so early in their lives. For some, that moment of discovery comes much later. And there are some who understand gender as a specter and not just two rigid categories. That is Ari’s case.
[Ari]: I don’t really understand what is meant when someone says that they are a man or a woman.
[Daniel]: Ari is 30 years old and they are from Medellín, Colombia. They were born with female sex, and now identify as non-binary. They use the pronouns “él, ellos” in Spanish. They, them in English.
And their name. They chose it too. That is how they form their identity. Ari wanted, first, a neutral name that didn’t sound like a foreign name.
[Ari]: I don’t know. I really like the three letters. I like that it’s short. Like, my cat is named Aristotle, and I think that having a name like his is the best.
[Daniel]: But, before being Ari, they had another name. Ari was an insecure girl, trying to fit in in a nun school….
[Ari]: Well, I never could. I never could do it right, because I felt like my body wasn’t like fitting what I thought my body needed to be.
[Daniel]: For Ari, being satisfied with their body was a very long process. Until one day, when Ari was grown up…
[Ari]: I found a video on YouTube and I said, like: “Oh, OK. It’s this. It seems like I’m trans. Because this person is describing a very similar feeling.”
[Daniel]: Ari researched more and found this other concept with which they finally identified.
[Ari]: That you can be non-binary and, therefore, not feeling like a woman doesn’t mean feeling like a man.
[Daniel]: But still today, it’s very hard for people to think outside those two categories. For instance, Ari went to the doctor, because they wanted hormone treatment. They wanted to get away from their female body and closer to that grey area.
[Ari]: I told them very sincerely, like: “I feel that I’m a non-binary person. I want hormones.” And they said: “There is no neutral gender. You need to have always felt like a man for me to give you hormones.”
[Daniel]: But being forced to fit into one of the two genders was precisely what Ari didn’t want. For them, it’s clear that in their case, what exists is fluidity.
[Ari]: Like, the relationship to the body changes so much and the relationship with gender changes. To establish like a linear chronology of gender is impossible. And it’s a little violent with yourself and with the possibility you have to change and to be many things, many times in different moments.
[Daniel]: For many trans people, Latin America can be suffocating. It sometimes happens to Bruno, the last listener we talked to.
He was born with a feminine sex, in Peru, and began his transition a few years ago. Now, his appearance is more masculine, and that makes him feel good. Sure of himself. But, getting an ID with a new name in Peru is a pretty tedious bureaucratic process. One that Bruno hadn’t been able to complete until a few months ago. Before that, when he tried to get into his college…
[Bruno]: I was stopped. They would say: “Hey, you can’t go in.” And I would answer: “Why?” And the would say: “Because that ID is false. This is an ID for a lady and you’re a man.”
[Daniel]: And when he signed his papers with his chosen name…
[Bruno]: They would tell me I couldn’t call myself Bruno, because that wasn’t on their list. And if I kept signing my papers or whatever with that name, well, they were going to fail me. My grades wouldn’t count.
[Daniel]: And that depressed him.
[Bruno]: Fighting so hard for this… to fight for your identity and have it be denied there, in your place of study, it didn’t seem right. Because they were violating my right to an identity, even my dignity as a student.
[Daniel]: So he organized. Along with other classmates, they collected signatures to take to the faculty, demanding students be allowed to use their social name, that is, their chosen name.
[Bruno]: And, well, after a few months of intense activism and direct action in the university, this framework was passed, which is the use of the social name. Or the Trans Reform too, as we know it there.
[Daniel]: The Trans Reform. Bruno has dedicated himself to this type of activism, and is conscious that his work is helping his community be more tolerant. But, what he would like is…
[Bruno]: To go to a country where everything is like, quote unquote, solved, something like that. And to be able to have that feeling of equality. That you’re not the odd duck.
[Daniel]: That country maybe doesn’t exist, of course. I mean, the country where everything that has to do with trans people is solved, where there is no exclusion, no threats of violence. Maybe there are places or bubbles in some countries where things are better, where life is more livable, but the prejudice exists, in Europe, in Canada, in the United States, in Latin America, everywhere.
But yes, one can understand why someone like Bruno might imagine another life elsewhere. There are everyday aggressions that confront you. And the violence against the trans community in Latin America is so powerful that life expectancy on a regional level is under 35 years.
Let’s go back to Victoria, the first listener we’ve heard before. The thing is that living as trans is to always live under a threat. And everyone around them and everyone who loves trans people in Latin America is aware of this. During Victoria’s previous birthday, her dad…
[Victoria]: He said to me: “Take care of yourself because I want to enjoy you for many more years.” And that’s not something that any parent says to their child.
[Daniel]: However, after talking with Victoria, Ari, and Bruno, we felt some hope. And it’s because all three told us something similar: that when they finally achieved that acceptance of who they really are and how they want to look, the body stops being an enemy.
[Bruno]: But, the more I have progressed in my transition, the more I have advanced to what I really am, since I feel I have gained more confidence. I’ve gained a lot of confidence. When I look in the mirror, I see myself as handsome and I like myself. I life myself a lot.
[Ari]: I feel handsome. It’s something I don’t think I would have ever said about myself before. That my body deserves to be loved just as it is. That is the most gratifying thing. Feeling that I’m an individual worthy of love and desire.
[Victoria]: Yes, I see myself very happy. And this year has been a lot about working on self-love. But I do feel happy knowing that I can be myself and alive.
[Daniel]: It’s no longer about hiding or covering themselves, but rather about celebrating that they’ve accepted what they feel and, ultimately, who they are.
If you still haven’t listened to this week’s episode, go and listen to it. It’s called “Me Girl.” Thank you to Fabiola, Bruno, Ari, Victoria, Laura, and everyone who shared their stories with us.
This episode was produced by Miranda Mazariegos and edited by Jorge Caraballo, Camila Segura, and by me. The music and sound design are by Andrés Azpiri and Rémy Lozano.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Lisette Arévalo, Gabriela Brenes, Victoria Estrada, Andrea López-Cruzado, Patrick Moseley, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, Luis Trelles, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa, and Luis Fernando Vargas. Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast from Radio Ambulante Estudios, and is produced and mixed on Hindenburg PRO. To listen to more episodes and know more about this story, visit radioambulante.org
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.
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